Anna Maria Island city leaders propose parking fees to manage beach crowds

6:14 PM, Sep 5, 2013   |    comments
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Anna Maria Island, Florida -- Forbes magazine calls it one of America's prettiest towns but is all the publicity more than Anna Maria Island can handle? City leaders say increased tourism is congesting the island attracting some people they'd rather not have.

Anna Maria Island's old Florida feel has attracted more visitors year-round. While the added congestion is good for business, locals say it's impacting their quality of life and visitors should help pay the price.

"The character of the island is why people come here," says Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti.

It's that piece of paradise on this seven-mile-long island that Monti says city leaders are trying to preserve, so they are proposing to charge for parking.

"If we want to embellish the experience for someone coming to the island, we need to generate revenue," says Monti.

Or do city leaders want to generate fewer visitors? Business owner Trish Edwards thinks so.

"Anna Maria has always wanted to keep it quiet, keep it their own place."

Edwards says parking meters will hurt her business, of which she's seen a 40% increase in three years.

"I worry they will turn too many people away," says Edwards.

Monti says they only want to keep out visitors who are disorderly whether they are there for a day or a month.

"Our stance is we love tourism and love tourists want them to be respectful of the people who live here."

But locals say they would pay the price year-round. Marti Blauvelt and her husband travel to Holmes Beach from Myakka City once a week. 

"We can't afford to live on the beach and this is the next best thing," says Blauvelt.

The retired couple lives on a fixed income and Blauvelt says parking meters would cut their trips in half. He also says he thinks city leaders are more interested in money from out-of-state visitors, like snowbirds, in the winter.

Monti says it's difficult to measure how much money "day trippers" or "daycationers" generate because many bring their own food and drinks.

Holmes Beach city leaders are considering other solutions for the traffic congestion besides parking meters -- such as building a parking lot and shuttling visitors to the beach area, increasing trolley service from the mainland or adding a water taxi.

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